Phoebe Yeh, who joined Random House Children’s Books in June as v-p and publisher of Crown Books for Young Readers, has acquired the inaugural books for the revitalized imprint. The list, which debuts in August 2014, will eventually include 10–15 releases annually and will focus on middle-grade fiction and narrative nonfiction. Among the first titles are books by Suzy Becker, Jon Meacham, and Walter Dean Myers.
Crown Books for Young Readers has had a somewhat checkered history since Random House acquired the Crown Publishing Group in 1988. At that time, Crown Books for Young Readers published a full range of children’s titles, including picture books, fiction, and nonfiction. In the mid-1990s, when Simon Boughton became publishing director for both the Knopf and Crown children’s imprints, Crown’s focus shifted to nonfiction. Crown continued to publish picture books and fiction by authors who had been published by Crown in the past, though most new fiction and picture-book publishing was released under the Knopf imprint. In 2006, the Crown list was folded into the Knopf list, and no new books were published under Crown, though backlist titles retained the Crown logo.
Barbara Marcus, president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books, explained why reviving the Crown children’s imprint now made perfect sense to her. “We were looking to expand our trade publishing program, and I have long admired the diversity of Crown’s adult list, which has great commercial fiction and a broad range of very strong nonfiction,” she said. “Our other children’s imprints are publishing fabulous books, and there is certainly nothing lacking here, but I wanted to expand and wanted to hire an editor who is going to add something different. This seemed like a good opportunity to bring back the Crown moniker to Random House Children’s Books.”
Yeh is well suited to spearheading the new venture, said Marcus, who overlapped with her at Scholastic, where Yeh was a senior editor of Scholastic Press (leaving in 1996 for HarperCollins, where she worked for 17 years, most recently as editorial director), and where Marcus spent 22 years as president of children’s book publishing and distribution.
“As an editor, Phoebe balances the highly commercial and more serious narrative nonfiction, which we thought would be an interesting mix to bring to Crown,” Marcus said. “At Scholastic, I watched her work on properties like the Magic School Bus and the books of Walter Dean Myers. I think she has a real sense of what kids like to read as well as a strong appreciation of the school marketplace from a trade publisher’s point of view. We are really eager to have her first list come out.”
Building the List
Yeh is pleased to have aligned herself with the Crown name. “I have happy memories of Crown children’s books, like Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold and David Small’s Imogene’s Antlers,” she said. “It is so cool to bring the children’s imprint back in a slightly different way and find exciting ways to publish excellent nonfiction for young people. There is room for tremendous growth there with what is happening in schools with the Common Core curriculum. I’d like to mix things up with books that have a fiction and nonfiction mix. I’m especially interested in new voices and new formats.”
As an example, Yeh cited Lou Anders’s Thrones and Bones: Frostborn, a fantasy inspired by Norse folklore involving a dead Viking sea captain, wyverns, and a 1,200-year-old dragon. Due in August 2014, the novel, Yeh explained, “is a very commercial fantasy adventure. The author is a terrific author and editor of adult science fiction, but hasn’t written for children before. He brings a brand new voice to children’s literature.”
Another acquisition that adheres to Yeh’s mission of doing “middle grade books that haven’t been done before” is the heavily illustrated Lucy and Andy Neanderthal by Jeffrey Brown, a spring 2015 release about two kids living 40,000 years ago who seem to be way ahead of their time. “The easiest way to describe this project is the Magic School Bus idea for middle grade,” Yeh said. “The story is completely fictional, but there is lots of true information about Neanderthals and that time period. It’s presented in a very entertaining way, in a format that takes middle-grade illustrated fiction one step further.”
Though Yeh anticipates that the bulk of the Crown Books for Young Readers list will be aimed at readers 8–12, the imprint will publish the occasional YA book as well, including Myers’s On a Clear Day, due in September 2014. In the novel, a girl from the Bronx and her companions take on a sinister consortium of companies that control all natural resources. “The novel is set in 2035 and is Orwellian in scope,” Yeh said. “So Myers is also doing something experimental here.”
The editor’s acquisitions also include Kate the Great… Except When She’s Not by Suzy Becker, an illustrated novel starring a precocious fifth-grader who’s an aspiring artist, out August 2014; Thomas Jefferson: President & Publisher, Jon Meacham’s illustrated children’s adaptation of his Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, due in September 2014; and The Stupendous Scrapbook of (Almost Manly) Stan by Alison DeCamp, a spring 2015 book in which a boy’s scrapbook journal documents his search for his missing father.
“I want to be really careful to complement the other Random House children’s lists,” said Yeh. “Every acquisition has to be really singular. What I’m attracted to are books with strong kid appeal that integrate nonfiction into fiction and might have a curriculum hook. I don’t think that kids always have books available to them that they like that tie into the curriculum. I’m trying to fashion my list by thinking, ‘What would a kid want to pick up?’ Obviously a book has to have a strong voice and an original premise, but I really do think about the reader first and foremost.”